GUNSHIP's eponymous debut album manages to bridge the divide between a pure synthwave experience and a modern indie rock radio-ready sound.
It's an ambitious release that will please both the genre purists looking for yet another synth fix and the less niche, general indie rock crowd that enjoys solid songwriting and a good share of angsty lyrics.
If you're expecting something more orthodox like the King Fury soundtrack or Timecop1983's latest album, you're in for a surprise.
GUNSHIP's (a.k.a. Dan Haigh & Alex Westaway & Alex Gingell) love for all things “80s sound” is evident in every note on the album, but instead of another exercise in style we got something more.
The guys obviously worked with a bigger budget and years of experience as touring musicians (Haigh and Westaway have been in an alternative rock band Fightstar for years) than a typical synthwave producer/artist which makes any real comparisons clunky.
The production of GUNSHIP (the album) is thus impeccable, benefiting from the years of honing tracks the band members racked up.
A strong focus on vocals is evident and that alone makes it a different retro wave release. Vocals are clearly the backbone and centerpiece of every song with synths enveloping them.
In my view, the album shines most when the strong songwriting skills, high fidelity mixing/mastering and the underlying love affair with the 80s style coalesce together to be more than the sum of their parts.
This is the case with the tracks Pink Mist, Kitsune, and to a lesser extent Maximum Black.
Pink Mist already entranced us on Retro Promenade’s “Carpenter” comp earlier this year and gave us thirst for more.
Kitsune is like a perfect slow dance for two lovers caught up in some dystopian cyberpunk turmoil.
Maximum Black has an epic 1 minute intro that is dying to be coupled with a montage of Blade Runner landscapes.
The album is also very interesting when at times – quite often actually - the grand tradition of British indie rock comes through.
For example, The Hegemon sounds like early Keane coated in a retro-synth finish.
Tech Noir might trick you into thinking it’s the synthwave-iest song on the album with no other than John Carpenter uttering the opening fictional movie voiceover and those haunting synth pads.
But don’t be mistaken, the track’s true core is its super catchy chorus sang by Charlie Simpson of Fightstar himself, that sounds like early Coldplay or Bombay Bicycle Club.
The Mountain, the opening track and single, really serves as a manifesto of GUNSHIP’s sound: a bit disturbing, helicopter-like bassline, set against the tangy, high pitched synth bells and arpeggios.
Then there is the Haigh’s warm, slightly fragile vocals. The only thing marring the track are the EDM-like drops.
Another track where GUNSHIP approaches the big room sound and structure is Revel in Your Time, that sounds highly sample-able and with small changes, ready for the Tomorrowland crowd for example.
Another weaker point on the album for me is also Fly For Your Life, that with its combo of inane lyrics and singalong pretensions sounds like it was written as a hopeful contender for the newest Hunger Games soundtrack.
Yet other songs really balance these weaker points out, resulting in a record that really flows from finish to start while each song sounds different.
Other than that, it’s clear GUNSHIP have their eyes set firmly beyond the usual synthwave niche horizon.
We’re yet to see what kind of influence this album might have on the more mainstream music scene, but it could easily earn a place in synthwave history as one of the first crossover albums.